WASHINGTON – After a massacre at a Parkland, Florida high school earlier this month, Americans are demanding policy changes to strengthen safety in public schools. But President Donald Trump’s strategy to improve school safety has drawn furious criticism from some of the country’s largest teachers’ unions.
In the weeks following the Parkland shooting, Republican lawmakers and National Rifle Association officials have both suggested that the best way to protect American students is by arming American educators.
“If [Florida shooter Nikolas Cruz] thought that other people would be shooting bullets back at him, he wouldn’t have gone to that school. He wouldn’t have gone there,” said Trump at the Conservative Political Action Conference Friday. “It says, ‘This is a gun-free zone. Please check your guns way far away,’ and what happens is they feel safe. There is nobody going to come at them.”
The president has also stressed in recent days that he does not advocate for arming teachers who are inexperienced with handling guns, but rather to permit educators who are already adept with guns to carry them at school. He has also suggested that teachers who agree to carry guns in schools should receive bonuses for doing so.
The president’s position echoes a long-held talking point by the NRA. “The only way to stop a bad guy with a gun is a good guy with a gun,” said NRA Executive Vice President Wayne LaPierre in his speech at CPAC Thursday.
The proposal drew immediate criticism from teachers’ unions and on social media.
The National Educators Association condemned the proposal in a statement Wednesday. With over 2.7 million members, the NEA is the largest organized labor group in the United States, representing teachers as well as other school employees, including cafeteria workers, bus driver and librarians.
“Bringing more guns into our schools does nothing to protect our students and educators from gun violence,” said Lily Eskelsen García, president of the NEA. “We need solutions that will keep guns out of the hands of those who want to use them to massacre innocent children and educators. Arming teachers does nothing to prevent that.”
The American Federation of Teachers, which represents an estimated 1.7 million members, held a telephone town hall Wednesday evening to discuss the president’s plan.
“The response was universal, even from educators who are gun owners,” said AFT President Randi Weingarten. “Teachers don’t want to be armed. We want to teach.”
Many educators voiced their opposition to the proposal individually on social media.
Some even argued that the president’s suggestion about arming teachers was intended to serve as a distraction from meaningful gun control policies.
“It’s a ridiculous proposal. It’s an unserious proposal,” wrote political communications expert and George Washington University professor David Karpf in a thread on Twitter. “And the thing is, that’s the whole point… THE WHOLE POINT of this garbage proposal is to deflect and delay. Rather than being forced to defend the gun show loophole and their opposition to the assault weapons ban, they need us to talk about something else.”
Others used the proposal as a vehicle to call attention to other classroom needs. On Twitter and Instagram, teachers used the hashtag #ArmMeWith to highlight ways their classrooms could be improved without guns.
“#ArmMeWith smaller class sizes, not guns,” wrote Twitter user @akennedy731.
“#ArmMeWith proactive legislation that will promote a safe place for me to teach my students,” wrote user @msfojan.